Monday, May 04, 2009


The following is an interesting recent discussion of Tom Wright about the importance of post-modernity and the need to get beyond modernity. See what you think BW3


Al Shaw said...


Interesting to see how post-modernity is often described in wholly negative terms within evangelical circles.

NT Wright's comments remind us that it is, in fact, merely announcing the end of modernity, a development over which we can surely rejoice.

Fr. Kevin+ said...

Bishop Wright further explicates this subject in a series of lectures for the President's Symposia at Seattle Pacific University.

His lecture, "The Christian Challenge in the Post-Modern World," can be found here (need iTunes).

A related lecture, "God, the Tsunami, and 9/11: The New Problem of Evil," can be found here (need iTunes).

I agree with Bishop Wright's overall lens through which he examines Scripture on this topic; it is simply outstanding. I do not necessarily agree with his conclusions about empire because I think he ignores some important NT passages on the role of government in our broken and fallen world.

As usual, Bishop Wright is thought-provoking and faithful to the Word. He is worth the time it takes to "read, mark, and inwardly digest" his lectures.

Bren said...

Wow. NT Wright spoke my heart. I find it so exciting to be a part of the Church in this age. No more resting on our laurels, as if we had any really, but instead how will we speak truth into a culture no longer dominated by a Judeo/Christian worldview? What will be required of me-of us? Will we rise to it? I pray we will by the grace of God.

James said...

A pdf version of the Tsunami piece:

James said...

Fr. Kevin+ said...

Rats. I see that my link to Bishop Wright's lecture, "The Christian Challenge in the Post-Modern World," is bogus. Hopefully, the corrected link is here.

I apologize for the confusion.

Mike L. said...

This is a classic example of what happens when a modernist tries to explain postmodern philosophy. It doesn't work.

I do appreciate that Wright has, in some small ways, worked to tamper the alarm over postmodern philosophy in his Evangelical circles. However, he ends up mining post-modernity, hoping to find ammunition in his case for a modern fundamentalist literalism (evidenced by his attempts to insist on a literal physical resurrection).

Wright builds his apologetic on the shaky foundation that "nobody thought resurrection was a possibility [in the 1st century]", so therefore it had to have literally happened or else nobody would actually write about it or believe it. Really? That is absurd logic. We have many reasons to conclude that EVERY author of the new testament would have very likely believed resurrection was not only possible, but that it was inevitable, and that they would all one day be resurrected. Wright writes about this at length in his own books. He's cutting the legs out of his own argument here. These 1st century authors might say resurrection is improbable on a daily basis, but they certainly believed it was a possibility (even a certainty) in their future (long before Jesus ever came on the scene). It is their belief in the inevitability of physical resurrection that allows them to then interpret their ecstatic spiritual experiences as a literal physical resurrection of Jesus. Benny Hinn proves this still works today. People who believe the possibility of mystical experiences will likely interpret their own experiences through the lens of those beliefs.

Post-modernity is not about replacing a modern narrative with a pre-enlightenment naivety. It is about correcting the modern blindness toward the role of our own narratives in our search for truth. It is about applying more restraint in applying claims of historicity and certainty in our myths and traditions. Wright seems unwilling to do that as he makes his claim of certainty in resurrection.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Mike: What Tom Wright is probably talking about is the Greco-Roman views on the afterlife which certainly did not include resurrection, a concept which was deemed absurd. Notice that Tom refers to various Greek writers in his comments, not early Jews. As for the Jews, only some of them believed in resurrection and they certainly did not think it was inevitable in the case of any particular individual.

There is nothing particularly naive or illogical about believing in resurrection, since many of the greatest minds of our own time, never mind of previous ages (e.g. Descartes, Newton etc.) have believed it possible.

I do however take your point about not going back to pre-modernity. What I have experienced however of post-modern persons and writers is that in fact they are more open to the supernatural than old school modernist, not less.



Irenicum said...

Boy oh boy, I've ended up watching NT Wright for nearly the last hour on various topics! Of course I can't complain, he is brilliant after all. Each time I listen or read him I'm reminded of why he is such a gift to the church. And I say that as someone who disagrees with him on his views on justification! Not a minor topic, mind you. But God has definitely gifted him both intellectually and pastorally. Of that I am grateful.

Mike L. said...


The authors of the NT did not believe resurrection was "absurd". Instead, resurrection appears to be prominent view among Jews in the 1st century (except maybe the Sadducees) and the Greeks who converted to Christianity (sold on it by Paul). It is right there in Paul's writings which heavily inform the narratives later captured in the Gospels. I think it is very safe to say that these people in question thought resurrection was not only possible, but inevitable. Even Wright suggests that Jesus is not a single event, but the first of fruits of a general resurrection. As Paul said, the Gospel wouldn't fly without resurrection. He insisted on it. (Only one of the things he was wrong about!)

Post-modernity has nothing to do with being more open to the supernatural. It is about being open to the paradox of following a story that your rightfully admit is a myth. Moderns could never do that (as you see in Wrights modernist need to try and claim it wasn't a myth).

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

I find it ironic that you're trying to tell us what post-modernity is 'about'... Surely you can step back and see that irony too.

The points of postmodernisms vary, and some postmodernisms precisely don't have a point. So I find Wright's summary (post-modernity as preaching the fall) to be more accurate than yours (post-modernity as being ok with myth).

Wright's repeated point about resurrection is not exactly that no one believed it could happen, but rather that no one expected JUST ONE PERSON to be resurrected in the present (resuscitated, maybe, resurrected, certainly not). Remember, resurrection in 1st century Judaism is tightly tied together with the renewal of all things and the defeat of death.

For Jesus to be actually raised up means God's final victory over death, as Wright puts it, has broken into the present--a kind of event which first century Jews were NOT prepared for.

And that's why and how the early Church community is UNlike the followers of Benny Hinn.

As an aside, do you take yourself to be merely an enlightened follower of Benny Hinn? As in, 'this is fun, even though I know it's fake'?

Hope you're well.

Mike L. said...

Daniel, I'm missing your "irony". Can you help me understand? I'm not trying to sum up the whole of postmodern philosophy in one sentence - that would be absurd. I'm looking at how the broad spectrum of postmodern thought effects this one narrow issue - the modern battles over the historicity of scripture.

I also don't understand your question about being an "enlightened follower of benny hinn".

For that matter, I just don't understand the critical point Wright is making about the word "enlightened". It seems you both use "enlightened" as some kind of derogatory word, as if it means bragging, boastful, or arrogant. Maybe he is extending criticism of militant atheism to mean anyone who is educated in historical criticism. I don't get it. It feels like another knee jerk fundamentalist reaction. I don't think the word "enlightenment" was ever intended that way. In this context, it simply means someone with access to post-enlightenment era information. You speak about it as if YOU are not enlightened (a beneficiary of enlightenment era information). I'm not sure how you can suggest that.

You and Tom Wright use "enlightenment" in the same way Sarin Palin uses the term "intellectual". As if having this information is a bad thing. I'm not sure that anti-intellectual attitude is productive. I'd like to see us move past those modern wars.

Wright makes a great leap by trying to diagnose the problems of the last few centuries and then place all the blame on the ending of pre-enlightenment superstitions. He then implies the answer is a return to a literal view of those stories (or a few he's hand-picked). I'll agree with his description of the problems, but not with his diagnosis or his solution.

As always, my good friend, I find your questions and point of view helpful and interesting, even when I disagree so strongly.

Chap said...

Can someone explain to me how post-modernity is preaching the fall? This doesn't seem like anything new in any evangelical circle I am aware of in the last 20 years.

I'm honestly not being sarcastic...but "preaching the fall" has been orthodox/essential Christian belief for 2,000 years.


Ben Witherington said...

What Tom is talking about is that post-modern discourse quite regularly involves, among other things, a repudiation of naive optimism about human nature and human freedom, two things often associated with the Enlightenment. This is what he means when he says that post-modern writers understand we are fallen human beings, with tendencies toward selfish, self-centered, and sinful behavior.


WTF?! said...


I would add to what BW3 says by pointing out that postmodernism has the unique place of preaching the fall to the Church as well, in that the church has at times bought into the modern way of doing, being, and thinking...

Rodney Reeves said...

Mike L,

We all have a meta-narrative. let's not pretend otherwise.

Wright is simply putting his/ours on the table.

Mike L. said...


I agree that we can't completely escape our own lens and Wright does a wonderful job of bringing out the most common lens of our sacred authors. His exegesis is often very good, but Wright is not "simply putting his/ours [meta-narrative] on the table". He is actually making an intellectually dishonest move by suggesting that several rather large and unrelated problems during the last few centuries were directly caused by what he labels "the enlightenment". That is not an honest or productive move. It's a huge leap. He isn't just pointing out the lens of the authors so that we can understand them (exegesis). He's suggesting that we put that ancient lens on for ourselves, as if that one lens is somehow the "right" lens for all time and all places.

I'm not so much arguing against Wright's conclusions (he has every right to come down on the literalistic side of the modern bible wars), but he makes huge C.S. Lewis sized logic mistakes in his arguments, much like the famous but tragically flawed "liar, lunatic, or lord".

Ed Brenegar said...

Ben, Tom Wright is talking about the intellectual foundation of post-modernity. How do you see post-modernity affect how churches are organized and lead? I ask because organizational structures and relational networks are the vehicles for moving ideas through society. When they begin to affect the structures, in this case churches, then we are beginning to see sustainable change. You are in a lot of churches in the course of your speaking ministry. Curious as to how you see post-modernity being influential there.
Thanks very much.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ed:

Most of the churches I visit are not that savvy about apologetics, nor do they really understand why the culture in general is no longer supporting a Christian milieu per se, but rather a more multi-cultural one. Churches that are actually growing vary from very low church in structure to remarkably high church in structure, so I don't think there is a direct correlation between post-modernity and church structures vis a vis successful evangelism. Sustainability is another thing altogether, because there is more to discipleship than just getting them in the door (witness the recent confession of failure at Willow Creek on this front).

I'll be at Lake Junalaska in mid-July (see my schedule page on the website), so let's get together!


Randall Hardman said...

Dr. Witherington,

You and Wright need to get together and write a book.

Just a suggestion! ;)

- Randy

allanpopa said...

I understand post-modernism as a relevant discourse for discussion about the Resurrection of Christ.

The clearest way to understand this issue for me though is from an anthropological perspective. That is, we should discuss the sort of culture and society in which it became normal to speak of a Risen/Crucified Messiah.

So, first century Judaism(s) existed in an entirely different cultural matrix (cultural-reality) than 21st century Western world. These people had no understandings in ASC and psychologico-neurological studies and in these cultures it was evidently normal to move from "visions" to "claims" about the Resurrected Jesus.

These were entirely different cultural-realities, as such even "modernity" is a different cultural-reality, as too is "post-modernity". We must keep in mind that there is no "view-from-nowhere" and that there is no way to enter into a meaningful dialogue with what occured in the first century Judaism(s) without attempting to see things from within their cultural-reality.

I may be wrong, but that's just how I see the issue panning out.